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Washington Bicycling Hub - Spring '06
Pedalers Find Transit Agencies Peddling More Services
Federal Study Says Services Diverse, Vary from City to City,
More Study Recommended
By Charles Pekow
Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington, DC journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues.
Bikes on buses – sure. On trains, well-established. But some transit authorities around North America are getting more creative about how they will accommodate bicycles into mass transit systems.
"Transit agencies are providing an increasingly diverse set of bicycle services to their customers," states Integration of Bicycles and Transit: A Synthesis of Transit Practices, a report from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) done with funding from the Federal Transit Administration.
They have come up with ideas over the past decade including mounting bicycle racks on vanpools, creating bike stations, and allowing bikes on commuter boats. But not all bike accommodations aim to serve commuters. Transit agencies find they can accommodate trips made for social and recreational purposes during off-peak hours and weekends.
Transit authorities can boost their own business this way – a trip by bike doesn’t necessarily mean one less public transit fare. "Bicycle and transit integration is viewed by many agencies as a reliable tool for marketing and promoting good community relations. Some agencies believe that bicycle services can help increase their base of regular customers. Others believe that bicycle services can build support from organizations that promote environmental issues and alternatives to personal automobile use," TRB stated.
TRB surveyed 56 transit agencies in the United States. While many include bikes on rails and buses, only three agencies reported a vanpool program. It's generally pretty simple – all it takes is to buy standard bike racks and commuters can bike to and from their pick-up point.
And a handful of municipal transit services met their unique local needs with unique local bike services. These include staffed bike stations available in three cities, allowing bikes on paratransit or taxis, and on ferries, trolleys and regional heavy rail.
And most put front-mounted racks on buses that can hold two bicycles, five agencies said their racks can accommodated three or more bikes. Six agencies said riders can bring their bikes inside the bus "under certain conditions" or at the driver’s discretion. Only Grand River Transit in Kitchener, Ontario allows bikes inside buses at all times.
Other cities provide bike lockers. Most require cyclists to rent a specific locker. But several agencies, including the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, are experimenting with first-come, first served lockers at light rail stations.
The cities that started staffed bikestations borrowed the idea from Europe and Japan, where it already caught on. The facilities can include secure indoor parking, a repair shop, bike shop, changing rooms, restrooms, transit information, bike rentals, etc. Bikestation Long Beach in California operates in a transit mall where bike routes meet buses and rail. A non-profit operates the station. TRB says that Long Beach became the first American city to operate a bikestation and is building a new $400,000 one across the street from the original location.
A few other agencies started unique programs that fit their geography. Washington State Ferries in Seattle reports that more than 200,000 users have brought bicycles. Cyclists must either buy a $20 permit or pay a surcharge for bringing their bikes, however. The service also learned to allow cyclists to board and disembark before drivers as too many of both kinds of vehicles were getting scratched.
And some agencies specifically accommodate bikers in popular recreational areas, such as taking mountain bikers to trailheads. Breckenridge Free Ride in Breckenridge, Colorado allows bikes on buses that head to local ski resorts during the summer. Cyclists like to ride downhill, then take ski lifts back up.
And BC Transit in Victoria, British Columbia provides on-demand pick-ups for residents who don't live near public transit routes. BCT dispatches four "community buses" to pick up people in suburbs with populations of less than 20,000, where demand doesn't justify regular bus service. And these buses include bike racks. One limit: The rack design blocks the headlights so bikes can only come on daylight hours.
The biggest objections to integration come not from passengers but from employees who fear it's another burden for drivers or more work for maintenance staff. "Many agencies have overcome these concerns through training, demonstrations and actual experience," the study notes. When they find the programs work, employees and unions tend to drop their objections.
Still, authorities are troubled by abandoned bicycles, vandalized lockers, bus washers damaged by bike racks, interference with windshield wipers and the need to remove the bike rack to tow a broken bus.
But the study warns that transit agencies need more data on how many cyclists use the programs, who, why, when and how to improve or expand efforts. Those that have collected some data report that use of bike-on-transit and bike parking grew over time. And, of course, usage increased when agencies drop permit requirements to take bikes on transit or increase the number of buses with bike racks. Use increases when agencies install racks on all buses or drop peak hour restrictions. But few agencies set performance measures to judge their bike services.
One unanswered question that needs further study: Do increased fares or fees generated by bicyclists outweigh the costs of accommodations for them?
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